Movie reviews: Kim Ki-duk’s Pietà; Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster; Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons

Hot damn! Three new movies by three of my favorite filmmakers: Kim Ki-duk, Wong Kar-Wai, and Stephen Chow.

Pietà, the latest film by Kim Ki-duk, depicts a ruthless and violent money collector who is embraced by seemingly the only person with the power to tame him: his long-lost mother. The events are as brutal as the premise is simple,  bolstered by layers of symbolism and the blackest of humor. The critique of capitalism could be seen as cartoonish but I thought it was hilarious. Somewhere between playing chess with Death or Socrates learning a Kansas song, the goon’s downfall is loaded with meaning yet amusing to no end. It doesn’t hurt that the movie is masterfully filmed with no filler or irony, and I’m stoked that the Drafthouse Films version comes with English-subtitled interviews and extras.

The Grandmaster, the long-awaited Ip Man bio by Wong Kar-Wai, is as gorgeous and frustrating as his fans might expect. Tony Leung is enigmatic and powerful in the title role as Bruce Lee’s sifu, and successfully carries battles that range from the spectacular (in a train station) to the profound (using a piece of cake). Zhang Ziyi is equally magnetic, and perhaps has the most charged role as a rival grandmaster of kung fu. Sadly, Chang Chen’s role seems cut short. But ultimately, the characters are mere parts of the shifting eras, philosophies, and politics of China. Small parts of a bigger picture that will look incredible on American screens with a Comic-Con premiere.

Stephen Chow’s follow-up to Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, and CJ7 has practically no western appeal whatsoever. And it’s too bad if the Journey to the West prequel doesn’t get a proper U.S. release like Pietà or The Grandmaster, because it’s brilliant. Mixing the fully realized universes  of Chow’s last three films with the no-holds-barred humor of earlier classics like Flirting Scholar, The Mad Monk, or Justice, My Foot!, Chow impossibly balances between the deep and the profane, art and entertainment, high and low. In Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons, Chow stays completely behind the camera but his vision and imprint are unmistakable, while Shu Qi gives yet another performance of a lifetime as a vivacious demon hunter who is smitten with her less-than-equal played with measured gusto by Huang Bo.

Check out the trailers for Pietà, The Grandmaster, and Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons and then seek out the movies.